BY TONYE BAKARE AND MICHAEL BAMIDELE 16 APRIL 2020
“Violence against women in Nigeria is almost accepted as a fact of life in some cultures that perceive women as the property of their husbands.” _ United Nations
Nigeria is a country of anything-goes: the powerful ride roughshod on the hapless every minute; the political class are lords in a crazy manor; and the woman, doubly undone by the Nigerian society and her grossly limited access to power, is sometimes deliberately victimised.
And if you are the governor’s son, maybe you are allowed to threaten a woman, who most likely was not aware of your existence; whom you have never seen and who, most importantly, did not deserve your vile threat with sexual abuse.
Whichever way this is spun, Bello El-Rufai’s tweet at a Twitter user @thanos_zer(he told The Guardian he will like to remain anonymous) was a clear threat of sexual violence against the latter’s mother, is undeniably in bad taste and betrays the condescension with which Nigeria’s ruling elites view the people.
It is even more worrisome that @thanos_zer’s tweet that elicited such crude language from Bello El-Rufai was in the same fashion as that of El-Rufai’s which triggered @thanos_zer’s reply.
“There is nothing as radioactive as an incompetent leader during a time of crisis,” El-Rufai tweeted on Saturday evening. “The United States of America is a case in point. A few states in Nigeria too.”
@thanos_zer replied: “How about the absentee president in Nigeria?” El-Rufai quickly erroneously profiled the ‘troublemaker’ as a Southeasterner and called his governor incompetent.
Unfazed, @thanos_zer responded, saying: “I don’t shield anyone who’s inept. I can’t say the same about you. You’re daddy’s boy and of course, nobody attacks the finger that feeds them. Buhari’s ineptitude is mind-blowing. Yes, I said it and you’re not going to make me disappear!”
What started out as a comment on the leadership style of the President of the United States by Bello El-Rufai quickly erupted into a tirade of insults in the nature of sexual innuendos and ethnic slurs at critics.
Charity begins at home?
Hadiza El-Rufai | Image: Thisday
Bello El-Rufai, 32, is one of the sons of the governor of Kaduna, Nasir El-Rufai. His mother Hadiza El-Rufai, 59, is a novelist whose debut novel – Abundance of Scorpions – highlights the hard choices a woman has to make in the Nigerian society. One of those women include @thanos_zer’s mother.
Perhaps ad hominem is Bello’s preferred choice of weapon in the face of fire. He once tweeted that “I was trained to destroy my opponents” while responding to those who taunted him on the arrest of a former senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial district, Shehu Sani, for alleged extortion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Easter Sunday debacle also alluded to a deeply-rooted bad blood between the Northerners and the Southerners as Bello, a Northerner, made it a point to consistently reference leaders and the people from the southern part of Nigeria. In one of such, he said, “all useless leaders in the SE (Southeast) you urchins like to ignore” and in another, he called the family of a Twitter user “Ndi ignorant.” Ndi is the Igbo word for “people.”
Such expressions are reckless in a nation where religious, ethnic and political sentiments easily devolve into offline violence. One would expect better from someone whose proximity to power should give a sense of responsibility. In fact, such statements are antithetical to his mother’s position in an interview with Brittle Paper.
“I think when it comes to religion, it’s religious intolerance,” Mrs. El-Rufai said in the interview. “Basically, I guess what I’m trying to say is that people should take it easy, religion is personal, and we should be more tolerant.”
No. Not all is fair in love and war
Before Mrs El-Rufai’s tongue-in-cheek apology for her son’s tweets, the novelist’s initial reaction was shocking.
“Don’t @ me. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,” she wrote on Twitter on April 12. “All is fair in love and war. My belief: Respect everyone, but take no shit from anyone. I didn’t see any threats of rape. I would never condone that.”
Hadiza and Bello are Muslims. Islam forbids unequivocally the maltreatment of women even in a WAR situation. The first Caliph Abu Bakr famously told Muslims not to hurt the aged, women and children during war.
Abu Bakr said: “Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock. Save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”
Caliph Abu Bakr’s rules, Islamic scholars said, were based on the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad.
A familiar pattern
In July 2019, Premium Times published a video of Nigerian senator Elisha Abbo assaulting a woman in a sex toy shop in Abuja. The senator confirmed that he was the man in the video but he insisted he was also assaulted, without evidence, by the shop owners.
The Senate set up a committee perfunctorily to investigate the senator. Several months later, Senator Abbo still sits in the Nigerian Senate sans punishment.
It is official complicity such as this and lack of deterrent that allows violence against the woman fester without care. It is why Bello El-Rufai could think to threaten a woman he never knew with sexual violence. If a senator can get away with physical assault, a governor’s son, who is also a legislative aide to a serving senator, can get away with a ‘lesser’ evil.
Like Mrs El-Rufai said, “Never ever should sexual abuse be employed as ammunition in public/ private exchanges, no matter the provocation.”